Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3/5
The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favourite TV shows of all time. Between the perfect world building, methodical pacing and nicely realized plot developments, the Hulu Original has managed to maintain its consistency throughout 2 and a half seasons. Netflix’s latest dystopian thriller Leila feels like an Indian version of that same show. While that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, everything from the plot developments and overall premise down to the artistic use of colour feels ripped right from the Hulu series to such a degree that it’s hard not to draw comparisons.
Set in a near future India where water and clean air are luxuries, the story revolves around a wealthy Mother named Shalini who finds her life turned upside down when her husband is killed and she’s torn away from her daughter to live in Aryavarta’s Purity Camp. This harsh camp is notoriously known for rehabilitating women back to being pure and absolving them of their sins from having mixed race children in a bid to make India pure again.
Desperate to get back to her daughter, from here the rest of the series sees Shalini escape and flee across the poverty stricken streets to find her daughter and try to bring some semblance of normality back to her life. Along the way she uses her wits and cunning to outsmart the authorities before the climactic finale where the series ends things on an almighty cliffhanger.
Had I not watched The Handmaid’s Tale I’d probably be raving a lot more about this show but there’s so many similarities here (which I’ll get into in more detail with episode recaps to prevent spoilers) that it’s hard to not see both as mirror images. The red robes the women are forced to wear, the straight line marching and the general narrative arc of Shalini trying to find her way back to Leila are all examples of this.
Of course, there are still positives here, namely through the world building and exposition which are excellently handled. Background noise and graffiti on walls perfectly capture the mood of the city and certainly add some depth to this series in ways that show rather than tell us what’s happening. Seeing one wall with the words “Let’s build humanity, not walls” or hearing an audio broadcast about the ongoing struggles of the city are excellent tools for building this dystopian world and for that alone, Leila is worth checking out.
Leila is a difficult show to watch at times and some of the ideas here are scarily accurate to the world we live in today. It’s a harsh, volatile world and this cult-like, idealistic dystopia set against the backdrop of poverty and rubbish-strewn streets in India’s suburbs feel accurately depicted and not a million miles away from where the world could go in the future.
We’ve seen a lot of these near-future dramas recently but Leila does have some originality going for it which helps. Some of the themes are strongly presented and are consistent throughout the show too, and given the relatively short length at 6 episodes, means you shouldn’t be too disappointed when this one draws to a close with things left unresolved.
Despite it’s similarities to The Handmaid’s Tale, Leila is a well written, methodically paced thrill ride through the poverty-stricken streets of India. It’s an uncomfortable, bleak look at a near-future world that could come into fruition and will undoubtedly garner a fair few criticisms from the country’s locals. Having said that, the show does well to keep things relatively original but despite it’s best efforts, it can’t quite shake the shadow of the show it emulates so closely. I do hope this is renewed for a second season though, especially after the cliffhanger ending we receive, and if it is, the plot feels like it could take a wholly original direction going forward which can only mean good things for the show. For now though, Leila is well worth a watch and if you’re a fan of apocalyptic or dystopian stories, you should definitely check this one out.